“Reflect on the differences between where you grew up or where you live now and where your exchange partners live. Some factors to consider here are the universal and the particular, environment and culture.”

“Reflect on the differences between where you grew up or where you live now and where your exchange partners live. Some factors to consider here are the universal and the particular, environment and culture.”

I grew up in a small village located in the countryside of Southern France, so small by its size but also by how people were seeing the « outside world ». I was really happy to start leaning English in middle school because my horizon was starting to go beyond my little village. Then, when I went to university and I started living in a big city in France, my vision of my country changed again. And, I think I still didn’t get all the aspects of society in France, its government policies and its views for the future. I don’t know if my view of France changes because of my age or my location. Because in my small hometown I still feel disconnected from the world and safe whereas in other places this is certainly not the case.

Toulouse where I live now is a busy city but still kept the spirit of a small town. You can have friendly discussion with strangers, meet new people at bars in the evenings or different sports events such as rugby. This city is so friendly and welcoming. We only have old building built with bricks this is why my city is called “La ville rose” (the pink city). Toulouse is full of ambitious young people. It is the first student city in France and we raise a lot of innovative projects in the numerous universities and research institutes. There is also the headquarters of Airbus and a lot of aviation programs are directed there. Therefore, this city represents well what I think France is right now: a long history background with traditions still deep-rooted in the heart of French people but also a desire for innovation that is permitted thanks to the diversity of people from every corner of the world and an optimistic vision for our future (because everything seems so pessimistic since too long).

Photo d’ouverture : Une magnifique vue aérienne de Toulouse. Photo : © saiko3p | AdobeStock


When we had our short meeting with the students of Sharjah I was happy that they were so inclined to show us their traditions. We talked a lot about the fashion style and how they like to keep a traditional wear as a representation of their culture. Whereas, I would choose to show food items for example to represent France. We actually talked about how fashion, now, tend to go to the universal aspect less than particular. However, I liked that we talked about traditions and culture first and not questions of society. It made this encounter more optimistic, joyful and friendly. Their environment is really different from mine and I guess for my Dickinson fellows too. Sharjah seems way more modern and futuristic for my views. It was something I expected a lot regarding the country situation and the fact that a lot of countries got interest in the UAE in modern times for multiple reasons which makes it a central destination for businesses to be present. The influx of money is also a characteristic proper to the UAE. Both our cities seems to have a particular point which is that it was shaped by the traditions of the area. Religion (Christianism, Confucianism, Islam (in our group)) and ideology seems also to be an aspect that solidified our cities. With this aspect, moral values were shaped and so mores. We talked quickly at the end about how differently people would talk to strangers and how the “other” was perceived.

10 responses to ““Reflect on the differences between where you grew up or where you live now and where your exchange partners live. Some factors to consider here are the universal and the particular, environment and culture.””

  1. What an interestingly amazing blog post. I loved learning about your life in France. I also enjoyed your learning about your journey from growing up in a small rural town in southern France, to your life in Toulouse. I feel that you did an outstanding job when speaking of the cultural differences between France and the UAE. My favorite comparison in your blog is when you said that you would explain France’s culture through food, whereas the other students you spoke with described it through religion and fashion. That just shows the significant impact food has on your culture. Wonderful blog.

    • Thank you Sofia-Teresa for your comment ! It is true that in my small village food was probably the most common topic of a normal conversation. This is probably why I like to analyze food habits to understand a community. I feel like it tells you more than what we could think of. I’m also taking an African- American Foodways class at Dickinson that corroborate with this idea that food has such a huge signification for every community. Regarding France, I feel like food is also an aspect of our softpower we are really proud of, that is why people are talking about it a lot !!!

  2. Thank you, Rebecca, for providing your thoughtful insights regarding the differences between your exchange partners and your upbringing. I did not know that Toulouse was a busy city filled with opportunities and that the headquarters of Airbus was also located there. It was pretty interesting to know that the city is a reflection of the French state, which is a state with deep-rooted traditions with a desire for innovation supported by diversity. My overall experience with my other exchange partners was also joyful and optimistic. However, along with talking about our cultures and traditions, we also discussed the questions of our societies; we engaged in a conversation where we talked about the relationship between climate change and cancer. In addition to what you mentioned, another interesting thing about Sharjah is that people are very friendly when it comes to interacting with strangers. Since the UAE has become quite famous for tourism, many locals are getting more exposure to diversity, which complements the culture and tradition here, which is of showing great hospitality toward guests. I am pretty intrigued by the rural lifestyle in France, and since you mentioned that you grew up in a small village in southern France, I would like to know how would the local villagers react to non-European tourists visiting their village.

    • Thank you Sarvagya Sharma for your reply to my post! I’m glad that you had a glance of how living in Toulouse was like. Thank you for explaining to me how interaction with strangers was like in Sharjah and how the popularity of the country is helping with the exposure to diversity. I found it really interesting! I also like that you wrote that it complemented culture and tradition, yet you didn’t write that it changes it. This nuance seems so important to me, thank you for that!
      Regarding your question about my small village at the end of your reply, I actually got a really good example of a situation that occured about 5 years ago. A local associtation decided to help a family of Syrian that escaped their country by offering them housing in my village. I was really shocked to see in person the reactions of some people of my village. I would not say that it was pure racism because I’m not even sure that they really have knowledge of what racism is, but more like a rejection (fear) of something “different”. The most common thought was that they will disturb the normal habits of the inhabitants! When they finally moved in, people were really intrigued as if they wanted to know if they looked human or not. It was really disappointing to watch. My family and I were the only one that could talk with them because we could communicate in English. We tried to reassured them in thinking that the inhabitants will get used to them living in the village. I felt like having a discussion out of time and space if you see what I mean. I couldn’t believe I was having this kind of discussion in the 21st century with a family with five young children that ran away from their country.
      I was really happy when most people finally were interested by learning more about their culture and helping them to get used to their new life. I realised that the element that helped the most was that both parties gave something to the other: my grandmother gave them clothes and toys for the kids and the mother gave her in return some Syrian pastries. With sharing something both parties created a new bound and it was so nice to watch it getting better with the years passing by !

  3. Thank you for this post, Rebecca – this is so authentic and so thoughtfully written! I found your journey from your small village to the world beyond your immediate surroundings very insightful, especially because my own journey so many miles apart has been similar. Before joining university, I too began to feel constricted in the environment I grew up in. I went to the same school 25 minutes away from my home for my entire primary and secondary education, so I was itching to get a taste of the bigger world when I started university. I feel that university offered me that, just as it did to you — not only did it expand my world in terms of the people I now met, but it also enlarged my mind and my capacity to think critically. I once had a professor say that university is probably the time when we evolve most rapidly; plucked out of our childhood environment, we get to see our lives with more perspective and clarity and make choices about who we want to be. Would you say this has been your experience as well?

    • Thank you Manal for your comment! It indeed feel really similar to my experience. In France, we don’t live on campuses and don’t really have the possibility to create new friends except if you are really into going out on weekends …! I had to build a all different life, having an appartment for myself, doing groceries those kind of things. It made somehow a huge difference on how I perceived the world. I think university is the time I asked myself thousands of questions on how I want my life to be, how I can improve the world at my level etc…
      At least in France, university is the moment for most of us where we are left alone and we need to start making choices. It is when we can start seeing consequences that we learn a lot !

  4. Rebecca, thank you for such an informative and interesting post. I was surprised to read that your group spoke about many wonderful cultural things representing yourselves, which I found very refreshing. One thing you said really resonated with me. The line about how you did not fully understand all of the aspects of society and did not know if it was due to your age or change in location. I also had a similar experience when I moved at the age of 15 to the UAE from the US. I was never able to put my feelings into words until I read your post and realized I felt the same way. I’m originally from Somalia, so at that age, I really felt like I did not fit into any one society, and I still often find myself not being able to grasp societal norms from all three countries fully. Furthermore, I found it interesting that you and your group mates found that religion and ideology shape your communities. This brings the question, To what extent do you think the influence of religion shapes our culture and environment, and what factors can overlap despite a difference in religion?

    • Thank you Riham Ali for sharing your experience ! To answer your question: To what extent do you think the influence of religion shapes our culture and environment, and what factors can overlap despite a difference in religion?
      I’m currently taking a class at Dickinson about Religion in American Politics, and I found so interesting that a lot of behaviors can be shaped by religion. I personally feel like, there is a before internet and after internet at least for my country. I just believe in the fact that most of our basic ideology comes from religion but then was challenged with the arrival of internet and simply an easier access to speech.
      In France, I have the feeling that people wants to eradicate all the idea that are only based on the “Christian right”. Young generation want ideas shaped around how the world is evolving. For young generation in France, religion seems too static for the world we live into, even though there is still a lot of people that will not share my views.
      In general, I feel that religion shapes a lot of aspect in our lives that we decide it or not. I just want a world where thoughts are respected but don’t necessarily need to be shared. I think everything can overlap if we respect people boundaries, even though here too it’s easy to say but not easy to make it happen !!!

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